The So So Glos — two brothers (Ryan and Alex Levine), a step brother (Zach Staggers), and one of their childhood friends (Matt Elkin) — are a Brooklyn-via-Brooklyn punk band with ideals. The necessity of all-ages music venues, not losing yourself in technology, enjoying the real-life company of your fellow human beings, and doing things your own way are just a few of those.
Pioneers of the Brooklyn DIY scene as co-founders of the Market Hotel and now Shea Stadium, the band have released their latest LP, Blowout, on their own Shea Stadium Records. It took them a year between finishing the record and releasing it. In an interview with Death and Taxes, singer / bassist Alex Levine said, “The last year has just been us figuring out the best way to put the record out so people can hear it rather than it falling on deaf ears like our other records because we made some mistakes with some people.”
People will hear this record. The So So Glos may be punk, but that doesn’t mean they’re not entrepreneurs. Even releasing a record on their own label, without a manager, they’ve managed to secure mentions from MTV and Rolling Stone. Blowout is streaming at Spin, and the band will be David Letterman’s musical guest on April 26th.
What about the album itself, though? The So So Glos do have an image, but they are anything but a band placing style over substance. Blowout is a hook-filled album of pop punk that’s, in some ways, a throwback to the genre’s beginnings. It’s also got its share of new-ish sounds. Underneath the singalong choruses and “oh oh oh’s,” The So So Glos do have some things to say.
The album opens, after an interlude during which the pre-teen Glos discuss the death of Kurt Cobain, with “Son of An American.” Listening to the song in the context of the story of the band’s breaking from their label and going it alone gives new meaning to a song that’s been floating around for about a year and deals with working to take advantage of the freedom you’ve got. “Diss Down,” like many of the songs on the record begins with an infectious riff and builds to a final release — a blowout. The band’s belief in the vitality of their home borough comes across in lines, presumably directed toward Manhattan, like, “I think about it every night and day. / That ain’t a skyline it’s a cemet’ry,” or “There’s no one here but the insincere, so…”
“Xanax” (as pointed out in that Death and Taxes interview) builds on a Darlene Love sample and deals with the mind-numbing effects of technology and big media, opening with the line, “I’m done ruling the world from the tip of my thumb / and tappin’ on my telephone for fun.” Along with “Speakeasy,” which almost sounds like The Strokes, it’s one of the least “punky” songs on the album, showing that the band is capable of a few curveballs.
A final curveball comes on album-closer “Dizzy.” By itself, the song — with its acoustic guitar, harmonica, and piano — would be different enough. Those who keep listening past the approximately two minutes of silence following the song’s end, though, get to hear the pre-teen So So Glos again, performing their own composition, “Let’s Rock ‘Til We Die.”
It would be easy to listen to Blowout and hear the stompers and the rousing singalongs and think of the album or the band as being all about a good time. That’s only partially true. They definitely still possess that “Let’s Rock ‘Til We Die” philosophy. Opening their own venue, putting out their own record, the whole DIY philosophy, the “put down your phones and listen to people; listen to the music” attitude. It all comes down to one of the things that Zach Staggers said in that interview: “We’re punks and everyone should be able to see and hear your music. Who do we make music for other than people?”